Capel Fron Seion Baptist Chapel Nefyn and the Sunday School Trip

September 2016

When I was a youngster in the 1940's and early 1950's, I participated in many activities in Capel Fron, the Seion Baptist Chapel in Nefyn, Wales. My grandmother was a member of the chapel since she moved her family from Dinas to live in Nefyn in 1929. She was very devoted to her religion and her chapel and, as the only grandparent in our family, she encouraged myself and my brothers to join in, which we all did. My father was less enthusiastic about it all but did not object. My recollection of Capel Fron from those early days was of a pretty little chapel with a congregation of good devoted people. The congregation was large initially but with the decreasing interest in religion already under way, the number of people attending was shrinking. There would be close to a hundred regular attendees at the service on a Sunday morning.

The chapel was clean and picturesque with the white painted gate and railings in the front setting it off majestically between Tan y Maes and the Ddol field on the road to the Fron. It was without doubt the prettiest chapel in the area. The main chapel faced the road and there was path along one side leading to the vestry which had a separate entryway in the back. The whole property was enclosed by a stone wall. The chapel frontage always looked immaculate with the yellow paint covering the classical-with-arch style facade and with the evergreen bushes appropriately positioned and manicured around the main entrance and along the side path to the vestry. There was an invitational look about the whole place.

Inside the main chapel's covered entrance were two front vestibules, one on each side, separated by a large, round-headed, leaded-glass window. The doors from each vestibule opened to two alleyways between the pews, with the left one leading to a door to the vestry in the back. The 'big seat' (set fawr) was elevated and enclosed with benches where the deacons sat. It was located between the two alleyways against the back wall with the further elevated minister's pulpit in the center. There were a further five tall round-headed, leaded-glass windows along each side providing an adequate amount of daylight into the chapel. The vestry was a smaller version of the chapel with a “smaller big seat' (set fawr lai) and plain benches instead of pews. It had a small vestibule at the entrance and two small rooms in the back. The one on the left was a meeting room with tall storage cupboards behind the door. The one on the right had a sink and served as a kitchen with a door leading outside to the toilets.

I was encouraged to attend the Sunday morning service, the Sunday School in the afternoon, and the special activities around Christmas time. No encouragement was required for the annual Sunday School trip to Rhyl! I was less than enthusiastic about one activity in particular, the Sunday morning service, which unfortunately my grandmother attended regularly. It was very boring and I would do my utmost to avoid it but without a sympathetic ear from my father, which would occur on occasions, I was doomed. The service lasted a full hour and it was torturous from beginning to end. It started with a hymn, a deacon's prayer, a hymn, the minister's sermon, another hymn, another prayer and the final hymn. I would find myself positioned, for supervisory safe-keeping I suppose, in the pew between my grandmother and her friend Jane Evans. I believe they shared a common pew. Their hymn singing was a little difficult for a young boy to absorb, they were both high-pitched sopranos, but some parts were interesting. The hymn leader (y codwr canu), a man named Robert Jones (Robin Felin), would often restart yet again his favorite Cwm Rhondda (translated to English as Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah) verse “Wele'n sefyll rhwng y myrtwydd”. Mrs Walker on the piano and the rest of the congregation would have to immediately skip a couple of bars to catch up. I would look up at Grandmother and Jane as they screeched away “Henffych fore, henffych fore”. Jane Evans was originally from Merthyr Tydfil in the Rhondda Valley and also loved that hymn. Don't get me wrong, I love Welsh hymns too, especially if they are sung by the right choir. But here, it was as if the women were trying to make sure the boy between them would never forget those words. They succeeded, I never will.

Perhaps I am being a little too harsh on my grandmother and Jane Evans. I feel awkward even now referring to her by that name. I always addressed her then as Mrs Evans. Like my grandmother, she was a kind, sweet lady but not timid by any means. They were a real pair and in their old fashioned way had some good times together. Just to digress for a minute, my Uncle Bob was a young man in Cardiff just after the War and my grandmother asked Jane to go with her to visit him. They stopped in Merthyr Tydfil on the way, to visit with Jane's relatives. Later in Cardiff, they went shopping and Bob met them in a posh tea-room on Queen Street, maybe the Kardomah of my days in that city. And it was really so very, very posh according to Bob! They all ordered tea which was served in dainty looking flowered cups. Jane Evans asked Bob if he wanted something to eat and, thinking she was going to ask the waiter for a piece of swiss roll or an eccle cake, he replied positively. Then disaster struck as Bob put it! She reached into her shopping bag and pulled out a large loaf of bread and a knife while my grandmother brought out the margarine. They proceeded to cut three thick slices off the loaf and smothering them in margarine right on the table, one for each of them. No attempt was made to hide anything. It was done in the open for all to see and both women proceeded with their conversation in Welsh as if nothing had happened! Bob was mortified and very embarrassed but laughed about it often years later.

The worse was yet to come in the Sunday morning service. After Robin Felin finally finished the hymn, the minister asked one of the deacons to lead the congregation in prayer. It was the deacon I used to dread. He went down on his knees in the 'big seat' so only is head and shoulders were visible before starting his prayer. It started slow and quietly gathered speed and pitch, and then it went on and on for a solid ten minutes. He seemed to be in a trance up there, mumbling a litany of mostly incoherent stuff. There were a lot of sinners present since he would ask forgiveness over and over for the whole congregation. He would look up at the ceiling towards the end as he began to slow the tempo of his delivery. It was sheer torture for a young boy. I would keep my head down paging through the hymnal and hoping for it to end.

Much more enjoyable was the Sunday School which was held in the main chapel in the afternoon. The attendees would divide themselves up into four groups, one for the young women in the back by the 'big seat', one for the young men by the front entrance and a separate boys group and girls group in the middle. Each group had a designated teacher and there were four total, two elderly men and two elderly women. The boys teacher was a Mr. Humphries who lived next to the Nanhoron House on Well Street. He was a tough looking old gentleman with white hair, a pronounced chin and a slightly hunched back. He had served in France and Palestine during WWI and had seen a lot of his fellow soldiers killed. He seemed to labor for breath when he turned around in his pew to face the group. Someone told me later it was due to gas exposure in the trenches.

He was a good teacher and he was able to keep the interest of all the boys even of widely differing ages. He did talk about Germany and the two World Wars but he always tempered the boys enthusiasm about defeating the Germans with sympathy towards the plight of the common people there. He certainly did not express any bitterness about his experiences. I also recall a discussion he had one time about the differences between the religious denominations in Nefyn and how they were formed one hundred years earlier in Wales. Although I did not understand it fully at the time, it did prompt me to ask a lot of questions later. Who cared if the Baptists believed baptism required total immersion either in the tank 'under the big seat' (o dan y set fawr) or in the shallows of Nefyn beach on a cold Sunday morning! But those were the procedures, so I was told. I was always inquisitive and asked where the water came from to fill up the tank. Well they lift up the flooring of the 'big seat' in front of the pulpit, drop down the steps and block up the stream that flows under the chapel was the reply. The stream must be the one flowing along the edge of the herring field across the road, I thought. And I did remember seeing some rubber waders, a rubber frock and other regalia the minister could wear for such an event. They were hanging in the tall cupboard in the small room on the left at the back of the Vestry. The baptismal ceremony was not done until you came of age apparently and you specifically had to request it. It made you a fully fledged member of the Baptist denomination. I never witnessed the ceremony at the chapel or down on the beach. There was thankfully no push from my grandmother or my mother to move us boys in that direction or my father would have stepped in and that would be the end of the Sunday School trips to Rhyl!

The Christmas activities were very exciting with Christmas plays, the singing of Welsh carols and the visits from Santa Clos. They were all held in the vestry which was smaller and easier to heat. The active participants were on the 'smaller big seat' beneath the clock while the audience sat on the benches. In the center on the side nearest the chapel was the free standing coal stove which provided the heat. There was also a piano nearby which provided the music. The gatherings to sing Christmas carols were always fun especially when all the audience participated. And of course, they were sung in Welsh! To this day, after being in the USA for forty eight years, some old carols do not sound right to me unless they are sung in Welsh and I often find myself humming along with the Welsh versions. Strangely, one of the most popular carols here is “Deck the Halls” which is an original Welsh tune but not a Welsh carol. Nevertheless, the ''Fah, lah, lah” part still sounds good!

I participated in two of those nativity plays but the one in 1950 is the most memorable since a photo (shown below) was taken of all the participants. It was a lot of fun and there were several practice runs to make sure we got it right. A large amount of time was spent by the parents and women members getting the correct looking clothing ready. I was nine years old at the time and participated in the play as one of the 'wise men'. It was an easy task since the minister recited the whole nativity story and the cast just acted out the roles without having to speak. Perhaps that was only true for the children and not the adults, I don't fully remember. The photograph shows the adults Wil Francis, Eifion Hughes, John Griffith Jones, Gwilym Dei Jones and Johnny Owen who, much to their credit, participated in the play and also in most other chapel activities including the Sunday School trip. Those adults have left us long ago and the children in the photo are now in their seventies. Time has passed by very quickly.

The cast of the nativity play in the Seion Baptist Chapel, Nefyn around 1950.
Top row from left starting with the King: Wil Francis; Eifion Hughes; Marian; Rhiannon; Miriam; Jane; Beti; Iona; Gwen; Johnny Owen; Gwilym Dei Jones.
Middle row starting with Roman soldier: John Griffith Jones; John Gwilym; Richard John; Ken Francis; Wil John; Eirwyn; Gwilym Owen; me; Ifan John.
Front row: Aneurin Davies; Michael; Morwen; Ieuan; Neta; Ifor; Maggie; Mrs Davies.

Some members of Capel Fron, Nefyn around 1951.
Top row: Mrs Jane Evans; Mrs Catherine Hughes (my grandmother); Mrs Walker; Mrs Richard Jones.
Front row: Mrs Margaret Owen (my Mam); Mr Richard Jones; Mrs Bessie Davies.

The Santa Clos visit was eagerly awaited by all the children. The designated Santa was Richard Jones (Dick Felin – Robert's brother) and he would come lumbering out from the kitchen and on to the 'smaller big seat' with a heavy load on his back. He wore a mask to hide his identity and there was a large hole in the nose of the mask which made Santa a little scary. But Richard Jones had a mellow soothing voice which soon pacified any anxiety among the children. Money was scarce after the War and Santa's presents were rather meager but the chapel minister and organizers succeeded handsomely in providing excitement and everlasting memories for those children.

Before I proceed to the most enjoyable activity, I would like to digress one more time. I last visited Nefyn in 2006 and it was painful to see the state of old Capel Fron. It still proudly displayed its year of birth 1904 above the front entrance but one hundred years later rust was visible on the once immaculate front railings and all the large windows were covered with plywood. There was even wild ivy creeping up one corner of the building. I climbed over the wall from the Ddol field in the back. The Vestry door was locked so I could not get inside. I tried to peer through a window to see if the piano and stove were still there where I had sung a duet with a girl in a concert years earlier. She came from a family of good singers and was outstanding. I was not very good and I was eventually replaced by someone who could at least keep a tune. The same bushes were still there along the side path to the vestry but they were grossly overgrown. It was behind those bushes that I had played hide and seek with the duet singer and another girl so innocently long ago. They were both around my age and they were such pretty girls, dark haired with black sparkling eyes, Welsh through and through. I had a premature crush on both of them. I remember a few years later, and home on a visit from college in Cardiff, being disappointed to hear they were both married. In the front, I walked up the couple of steps to try the main chapel entrances but the place was completely locked up. After failing to see the inside of the old chapel, I climbed back over the wall into the Ddol field and left. That was ten years ago in 2006. Capel Fron is still standing today apparently but I am sure it is even in more of a dilapidated state.

Back to the most enjoyable activity which was participating in the annual Sunday School trip to Rhyl and I have a fair recollection of the one held in 1952. There was great excitement among the children as the buses pulled up and parked on Nefyn streets all those years ago. The boys rushed when the bus doors opened so they could get to the best seats in the back. It was 8:00 am on the Saturday morning and Nefyn Square was in total chaos with parents and children everywhere. The bus for the Capel Isa Methodists was parked by the Midland Bank, the one for the Baptists of Capel Fron a little further down on Stryd y Plas and the one for the Capel Soar Independents was up on the hill by Guto Parry's shop. The chapels coordinated so all the trips were held on the same day mid-spring. The boys were arguing among themselves about which bus was going to get to Rhyl first - the Methodist bus driven by Ifan Becws or the Capel Fron bus driven by Ben Pen Plas? The children had been saving their pennies for this special day throughout the long dark winter months.

I was of course on the Capel Fron bus. I had been on a couple of earlier Sunday School trips but I don't remember being with my elder brother on any. It was probably because of our age difference, he had his friends and I had mine. I do remember my mother coming on one trip but she had my younger brother now to take care of. She most certainly was not along on this trip. She had a bad reaction on a tuberculosis screening test and had to be confined to the Bryn Beryl Hospital in case she was a carrier. TB was still a scourge in the Lleyn area even in the mid 1950's. I remember my father receiving the bad news about her confinement from the local district nurse. She wasn't the friendly Nurse Jones of old but a somewhat crotchety lady with no tact or bedside manner. He was upset. A couple of weeks after she was admitted, when my grandmother was taking care of my younger brother, he came home on a Sunday morning with an armful of daffodils courtesy he said of Mr. Goff in Gorse Cliff! We didn't have a car but that was not an issue. Later that morning, even though it was cold, we walked all the way over the mountain behind Nefyn, along the long straight road towards Fourcrosses and through Rhosfawr to the hospital to give the flowers to my mother. We didn't stay long because the nurses wouldn't let me in. Among other things, my mother made it clear to my father, and to me through the hospital window, that I should still plan on going on the Sunday School trip to Rhyl. We then walked all the way back home, a total round trip of around twelve miles.

After the bus organizers ensured no one had slept late and that everyone was on-board, the buses started their drive out of Nefyn, down Stryd y Ffynon, past Tai'r Lon and out along the Pistyll Road. The Methodist bus was in the lead with the Baptist bus in second place. Then one after the other they climbed up the gradual hill towards Pistyll and Llithfaen, over the Rival Mountains and down the very steep incline to Llanaelhaearn. Here the buses had to maneuver three sharp right-left-right turns through the village before coming out on the Pwllheli to Caernarfon Road. In the 1960's, they built a new road so the Nefyn traffic could avoid those tricky turns. To most of the children, Llanaelhaearn was the outermost limits of their travels from home. Beyond Llanaelhaearn was the strange world of Caernarfon, Bangor, Felinheli, Conwy, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay and finally Rhyl. Welsh was spoken in most of those places but it decreased rapidly towards the English border. Very few children had ever crossed to the other side, to that strange place where no Welsh was spoken at all! There was a loud cheer from the boys in the back when Ben successfully overtook the Methodist bus on the straight section of road by Trefor. There was hardly any traffic in those days. The Capel Fron bus was now in the lead!

One of the organizers on the Capel Fron bus was the minister Mr Aneurin Davies (1918 - 2013). He was appointed the Baptist minister in Nefyn and Morfa Nefyn in 1948 and he lived with his wife in either Brynrhug or Llwynrhug, two semi-detached houses associated with the chapel. The house was located on a lane off St. David's road next to the cemetery. Aneurin Davies and his wife participated in all the chapel activities. They are shown in the photo of the nativity play cast on the lower left and lower right. He was a scholarly man and was very much liked in the area. He moved from Nefyn to teach in a school in Holyhead and later to other ministries in Angelsey. He finally settled at the Moriah Chapel in Menai Bridge. He passed away in 2013 at 95 years of age.

The other chapel minister, whom I remember vaguely, was Mr. W Humphrey Rowlands (1913 - 86) who was minister at Nefyn from 1939 until 1948. He had a son Paul who was born the same year as I was. I don't remember this minister well since I was only seven years old when he left Nefyn but I heard a lot about him from my grandmother. He played goalkeeper for the Nefyn Football Team during the early part of the War and he was well liked by everyone. He was coach and mentor to a young Nefyn man named Celt Hughes who was apparently eager to join the ministry. He allowed Celt to practice his preaching skills in the pulpit at Capel Fron. My grandmother adored the young man. After being successful in his effort, Celt was offered a ministerial position at the Baptist Chapel in Aberdare, South Wales in 1948. Sadly, due to a cruel illness, he was unable to attend his own ordination ceremony and had to reject the new post. Celt passed away at the Eryri Hospital in Caernarfon in 1950. Humphrey Rowlands was deeply saddened by Celt's misfortune and my grandmother was convinced it was the reason he left Nefyn to take a new ministerial position in Swansea. I do recall some years later my grandmother being so proud of me for winning a Baptist Undeb award for writing an essay in a competition. I have no doubt that was due to Mr Rowlands influence. He was high up in the hiearchy of leaders at the Undeb of Welsh Baptists while in Swansea. He passed away in 1986.

The excitement of the Capel Fron bus being in the lead had now faded and the conversation among the boys was which rides they were going to venture on first in Rhyl. The miniature steam train trip around Marine Lake seemed to be the favourite. After a brief stop in Conwy, we were well on our way along the flat coastal road to our destination. Everyone was now silent with the children eagerly scanning ahead for any signs of a fun fair. Then the bus crossed the bridge over the River Clwyd and the Marine Lake came into view. The car park was full of buses with people streaming out towards the amusement park. We had arrived in Rhyl! One of the organizers stood up and told everyone about the bus departure and to make sure that we were there on time.

I left the parking area and headed for the amusement park with a group of boys ranging in age from eleven to around fourteen. They were friends who might have come off the other Nefyn buses but nobody cared now. The bus competition was over and the Capel Fron bus with Ben the driver had won. We sauntered past the “Fun in the Farm” building where my mother a few years earlier held my hand as I rode around an under-the-roof trail on a donkey which for some reason decided to stop and wouldn't move an inch further until one of the teenage attendants came up and slapped him on the ass. There was hay distributed along the trail and the place smelled much like the farms around Nefyn that we were well acquainted with. The donkey ride was of no interest to us now. The Rotor had an exciting potential and we all paid the fee and climbed aboard. It was a large drum, spun around so the centrifugal forces pinned you against the wall as the flooring dropped off beneath your feet. When the drum started slowing, you gently slid down the sidewall to regain your footing. Then on to the even more exciting Roller Coaster in the shape of a figure eight. We went on that a few times and from the top you could see the whole Marine Park. The helter skelter Lighthouse Slip was a bit timid in comparison but we had to try it. It was warm and we stopped at a place selling Vimto or Corona Dandelion and Burdock for a drink before moving on to the next challenge.

We had to wait in a long line for half an hour or so before we could get on to the miniature steam train trip around Marine Lake. We were all well behaved. The train pulled around six open carriages each with about five sleigh-shaped, high-back seats. Sitting two abreast, we occupied seats on the first carriage. The train did not move very fast, you probably could walk faster. We spotted some rowing boats out on the Lake and we agreed to try that afterwards. We passed several people walking their dogs along a trail located between the train and the lake. The trail was open to the public and walking their dogs seemed to be a popular daily routine for those living nearby. The people were looking down and side-stepping a lot, no doubt trying to avoid dog poop along the trail. The days of pooper-scoopers was way in the future! And yes, one poor man had become a victim. He was bent over, balancing himself on one leg wiping the other shoe in the grass while his dog was tugging at the leash trying to get him moving again. The oldest boys in our group clapped and waved to him with the rest of us laughingly joining in. The poor guy smiled and waved back meekly. Then he must have lost hold of the leash since his dog took off back in the direction the train came from. Others on the train were now clapping and waving as well and even the driver turned around to look and pulled the engine whistle. One of the boys had a highly infectious laugh and he had us in stitches all the way back through the tunnel into the train's miniature station. I don't think the train experienced such a jovial trip as that in a long time!

Everyone had cooled down by the time we arrived at the rowing boat dock area. We were told to take two boats out and we split up so there was a good rower in each boat. When a young English-only teenage attendant started to lecture us on how to row, he started to get some lip back in Welsh. Then came the lecture about how to behave in a boat and how we would be towed back for any misbehavior. The attendant was shocked when we started rowing since we could really move in those two boats. We raced each other towards an island on the lake before the inevitable happened. One boy indicated he had to go to the bathroom really bad! The standard practice on a boat in Nefyn was to stand and do it over the side. He said it was more serious than that, and we decided he should take care of himself on the island. Most of it was sparse with just sand, stones and grass but there were spots where he could take cover. There were gulls and ducks everywhere and even a few swans. Take off your shoes and socks in the boat, wade ashore and don't worry we won't leave you there! We'll get you in and out real quick just watch out for that daddy swan, he will attack and you might lose something precious! With the other boat watching the dock area, we dropped him off and waited and waited ….. Then he reappeared with a big smile on his face. He jumped back into the boat and we were away. Nothing came out of the dock area and he was not violated by a swan! We had succeeded!

To this day, I do not know whether he was just kidding the whole time or not but he was a hero afterwards. He had relieved himself on the island in the Marine Lake in Rhyl, what a guy! Years later, when passing through Rhyl as a passenger on a regular train, I remember seeing the island in the Marine Lake. It was easy to see, since the railroad ran next to the lake on one side. It reminded me of the Nefyn hero and also of a really good friend who is not with us anymore.

Towards the end of the day, I had to get my Mam a little present before we left Rhyl and I scurried over to a nearby souvenir shop that sold, among other things, some leather purses. I got a small one for her with the Rhyl name on it. I was pleased as punch with the purchase and I hurried to get back to the bus on time. My joy was short-lived. I innocently tried to sit on a seat next to one of those pretty black-haired girls but I was told to move over to another seat. It was all quiet on the trip back home. The excitement was over and everybody was tired. The climb up that steep incline in Llanaelhaearn for the ride over the Rivals back to Nefyn was always a challenge for the buses especially in winter. It was the demarcation point that highlighted how isolated we were in that little town. But that wasn't such a big negative. A little further down the road on that bend below Pistyll was the ever glorious view of the two bays of Nefyn. How fortunate we were to brought up in such a fine place with such good people.

My mother was delighted with her present but concerned that I had spent too much on the purse instead of spending it on myself. She was released from the hospital a couple of weeks later with no problems. All's well that ends well. The following year, when I became a teenager, I started going down on Nefyn Beach to help my father with his boats and nets and the interest in Capel Fron rapidly subsided. Homework from Pwllheli Grammar School and snooker in the Nefyn Constitutional Club also became more important. That early period in my life was over. The beach was certainly a more exciting place with the fishing, boating and, with the coming of age, English visitor girls in the summer! The memories of those early Capel Fron chapel years in Nefyn though are very special and will never fade away.

Dr. Brian Owen
Emmaus, PA, USA

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